365 Wrestling, January Recap

365 Wrestling, January Recap

It seemed simple enough on paper: watch 365 matches in 365 days, one from each day of the year.

Simple? Ha! I’m pretty sure that the difficulties of staying caught up on watching wrestling and writing about it is the epitome of a First World Problem, but when life gets in the way, it can be easy to fall behind.

Still, I’m pretty pleased about how January turned out, in terms of match quality, match variety, and also the writing itself.

FACTS AND FIGURES

21 — The number of different companies and promotions included in the 31 matches in January.

4 — The number of promotions that made the January list multiple times. WWE and WCW led the way with five matches each. The Memphis territory and All Japan each had two matches

2 — The maximum number of appearances by any one wrestler on the January match list. Of those appearing twice, most did because they were part of the house show Royal Rumble from 1994 at Madison Square Garden. Five wrestlers appeared twice on the list and were not in a Rumble: Steve Austin (in his Stunning Steve gimmick), Bobby Eaton, Ricky Steamboat, Juventud Guerrera, and Minoru Suzuki.

30,822 — The total number of words I wrote in the 31 entries for January.

THE RANKINGS

Here are my rankings for every match I watched during the month of January. I’m not a star-rating guy. I prefer the 10-point scale instead. I consider anything rated at 5.5 or higher to be worth watching, and worth you taking the time to seek it out. It’s also worth noting that I think any ratings or rankings of entertainment are fluid in nature. I might go back later and see one of these matches and like it significantly more. This was my initial take on each match, after finishing it. Anything bolded is what I would consider to be a great match.

With all that said, here’s January:

  1. 9.0, WWE World Title-Last Man Standing: John Cena (Ch) vs. Umaga (w/ Armando Alejandro Estrada), WWE 2007 Royal Rumble, 1/28/07
  2. 8.9, Rockers vs. New Orient Express (Tanaka & Kato [aka Paul Diamond]) (w/ Mr. Fuji), WWF 1991 Royal Rumble, 1/19/91
  3. 8.7, OMEGA Tag Titles-Hardy Boyz (Ch) vs. Serial Thrillas (Mike Maverick & Shane Helms), Wendell, NC, 1/29/99
  4. 7.8, WWE Cruiserweight Title-Tajiri (Ch) (w/ Akio & Sakoda) vs. Rey Mysterio, Jr., WWE SmackDown, 1/1/04
  5. 7.4, Yuji Nagata vs. Minoru Suzuki, NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 7, 1/4/13
  6. 7.2, NWA Worlds Hvwt Title-Ric Flair (Ch) vs. Bobby Eaton (w/ Jim Cornette), WCW Main Event, 1/7/90
  7. 7.1, Chavo Guerrero, Jr., Juventud Guerrera, Lizmark, Jr. & Super Calo vs. La Parka, El Dandy, Psicosis & Silver King, WCW Souled Out 1998, 1/24/98
  8. 7.0, Dog Collar: Joe Black vs. Will Huckaby, Southern Honor Wrestling, 1/10/20
  9. 6.9, ROH World Title-Bryan Danielson (Ch) vs. Chris Hero (w/ Adam Flash, Bryce Remsburg, Nate Webb & Necro Butcher), ROH Hell Freezes Over, 1/14/06
  10. 6.8, GHC Hvwt Title-Kenta Kobashi (Ch) vs. Minoru Suzuki, NOAH Great Voyage 2005, 1/8/05
  11. 6.5, Michiko Omukai 10th Anniversary: Michiko Omukai vs. Lioness Asuka, ARSION, 1/13/02
  12. 6.3, Steve Grey vs. Zoltan Boscik, Joint Promotions, 1/31/79
  13. 6.2, El Generico vs. Jushin Liger, PWG Kurt Russellmania, 1/30/10
  14. 6.1, Anything Goes: The Fabulous Ones vs. The Moondogs (w/ Jimmy Hart), CWA at Mid-South Coliseum, 1/9/84
  15. 6.1, Dustin Rhodes, Ricky Steamboat & Ron Simmons vs. Dangerous Alliance (Arn Anderson, Bobby Eaton & Steve Austin) (w/ Paul E. Dangerously), WCW WorldWide, 1/11/92
  16. 6.0, Ricky Steamboat & Sting vs. Dangerous Alliance (Rick Rude & Steve Austin) (w/ Paul E. Dangerously), WCW Clash of the Champions XVIII, 1/21/92
  17. 6.0, 2/3 Falls: Roddy Piper, Rick Martel, Dutch Savage & Stan Stasiak vs. Buddy Rose’s Army (Buddy Rose, Butch Miller, Luke Williams & Sam Oliver Bass), PNW, 1/5/80
  18. 6.0, Dory Funk, Jr. vs. Billy Robinson, Houston, 1/16/81
  19. 5.9, Allie Kat vs. Savanna Stone, SUP Graps I am King, 1/20/19
  20. 5.9, Knockouts Title-No DQ: Gail Kim (Ch) vs. Awesome Kong, TNA Final Resolution 2008, 1/6/08
  21. 5.8, Brad Armstrong vs. Ricky Morton, International Pro in Asheville NC, 1/23/96
  22. 5.8, New York Rumble, WWF at MSG, 1/17/94
  23. 5.8, Rosemary vs. Samara, RISE 2 – Ascent, 1/27/17
  24. 5.8, BJW Death Match Hvwt Title-Abdullah Kobayashi (Ch) vs. Shuji Ishikawa, Big Japan, Korakuen Hall, 1/2/13
  25. 5.5, Stan Hansen vs. Ashura Hara, AJPW New Year Giant Series, Stage 11, 1/15/82
  26. 5.5, Jumbo Tsuruta & Great Kabuki vs. Fabulous Freebirds (Michael Hayes & Terry Gordy), AJPW New Year Giant Series, Stage 19, 1/22/84
  27. 5.5, Mr. Wrestling II & Kevin Sullivan vs. Austin Idol & Masked Superstar, Georgia TV, 1/26//80
  28. 5.3, Jerry Lawler vs. Jos LeDuc (w/ Jimmy Hart), CWA Memphis, Mid-South Coliseum, 1/18/81
  29. 5.0, Juventud Guerrera vs. Mortis (w/ James Vandenberg), WCW Saturday Night, 1/3/98
  30. 5.0, WWE Tag Titles-Paul London & Brian Kendrick (Ch) (w/ Ashley Massaro) vs. William Regal & Dave Taylor, SmackDown, 1/12/07
  31. 4.5, Regina di WAVE Title-Hikaru Shida (Ch) vs. Sakura Hirota, Pro Wrestling WAVE Nagoya Volume 8, 1/25/15

365 Wrestling, Day 31: Steve Grey vs. Zoltan Boscik (Joint Promotions, 1/31/79)

365 Wrestling, Day 31: Steve Grey vs. Zoltan Boscik (Joint Promotions, 1/31/79)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

With 365 days to pull matches from, what am I looking for in the selection process? Variety. I’ll be getting into this more in a recap of January matches, but the more places I can pull different matches from, the better. Just look at the final few selections from January. We went from a celebrated title match on a major pay-per-view to an early match featuring one of the most influential tag teams of the modern era in front of a rabid crowd to a one-time-only dream match. And now, we have today’s entry, a retro look at the British wrestling scene pitting Steve Grey against Zoltan Boscik from 1979.

If variety is the spice of life, then we’ve got a well-seasoned stew going.

Why this match? While still in the planning stages of the project, I reached out to some friends of mine — some fans, some active wrestlers — for recommendations on matches and individual talents I should seek out. “The more random, the better,” I said. One of the people I asked for suggestions from was Jason Kincaid. He suggested a handful of names, including Boscik.

Why this guy, I asked?

He answered:

“The draw Boscik has on me is the beautiful combination of: innovative grappling (escapes that I’ve never seen before), having the body and face of someone’s mean-ass dad that you’re nervous around, and shitty (foreign) heel attitude; complete with perfectly exaggerated facial expressions and body language. I feel like anyone who’s a fan of Lord Steven Regal will get the appeal of Zoltan Boscik.”

You can watch the match here:

The Context

If you’ve never watched older British wrestling, the style is very different from the wrestling you see elsewhere. Wrestlers face off in rounds, usually lasting three minutes or five. They’re working three-minute rounds here. The first wrestler to pick up two falls wins, with fall victories possible by pin, submission, knockout (failing to answer a 10 count) or disqualification. Wrestlers received two warnings (known as public warnings) for illegal tactics before getting DQ’d, and a disqualification typically ended the match automatically. There are also certain tactics that are common elsewhere in wrestling that are not allowed–namely, not being allowed to hit a grounded opponent.

This match is the opener in a tournament to crown the new British Welterweight Champion. The tournament took its time to play out, starting here and not ending until late June.

Grey is the current British Lightweight Champion, a title he’s held since April of 1978. Boscik’s background reads like something from a movie: he was born in Hungary, fled to England during the Communist uprising in the 1950s, and established himself as a fixture on the British mat scene.

The Match

The video starts off at the beginning of the third of nine three-minute rounds, with no score in the match. The first man to score two falls advances in the tournament. Grey is the definite crowd favorite. That positions Boscik as the heel, a role he played often on the British circuit and one he plays to near-perfection here. Boscik breaks the rules a few times — and picks up two public warnings in the process.

When Zoltan is on offense, he’s nasty. There’s a nifty counter in round four where Grey has him in a hammerlock. Zoltan goes for the ropes, delivers a backwards kick to Grey’s knee, and another back kick to the head to turn the tide. Meanwhile, Boscik is doing a ton to make Grey look impressive. He flings himself into multiple bumps with reckless abdnon. He milks counts to engage with his opponent. He begs off, only to bushwhack Grey when his guard drops. It only adds to the crowd support for Grey and their antipathy towards Boscik, which intensifies when the Hungarian goes for an Octopus hold twice, using the ropes to set up the move each time. The fans scream bloody murder each time, and boo lustily when the second attempt at the hold forces a Grey submission, evening the match at one fall apiece.

With the score of the match tied, Zoltan turns up the intensity, hammering Grey down to the mat, withdrawing so the referee can make the 10 count, and then moving in and walloping Grey immediately once he comes up off the canvas. It’s an effective, relentless approach and one that I would recommend for any heelish wrestler to consider should they find themselves booked in a Last Man Standing match.

The action carries into the seventh round, where Grey gets a second wind and ends it with a flurry of offense in 35 seconds, finishing off Zoltan with a backdrop and a pin.

Random Thoughts

–It’s off-putting to see the referee making the counts on pinfalls without actually hitting the mat. However, on the standing 10 counts, I could listen to that deep brogue accent of his all day.

–Some interesting insight from the subdued commentator, who is clearly backing Grey and knocks Boscik as a “part-time wrestler” who’s also running a pub at this point when he isn’t in the ring.

–The warnings system really helps to emphasize cheating and extra-curricular shenanigans by the heels.

Final Rating: 6.3

Given the date of the match, you might expect a slower, even plodding tempo. The rounds system allows these two to keep up a brisk pace and on occasion when one man is stringing together a combination on offensive maneuvers the end result holds its own against the majority of today’s fast-paced, super-athletic style, even if the moves being used would be considered basic by modern standards. And what is done here looks good. And at less than 12 minutes, I would recommend this match as an introduction to the format of European rounds if you are unfamiliar with this style.

Here’s the complete, ongoing list of matches in this project.

Up Next

Taking a look back at January, then, kicking off February with an international hoss fight.

One month down in the 365 Wrestling project! What do you think so far? Let me know by reaching out on Twitter where you also can keep up with all the updates on 365 Wrestling. Send a tweet, a DM, or fill out the contact form on the site to suggest a match to watch for one of the upcoming dates.

365 Wrestling, Day 30: El Generico vs. Jushin Liger (PWG, 1/30/10)

365 Wrestling, Day 30: El Generico vs. Jushin Liger (PWG, 1/30/10)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

When it comes to sheer longevity and maintaining quality over an extended period of time, is there any wrestler who can match the legacy of Jushin Liger?

Liger spent more than three decades in the character taken from anime. He’s one of the most influential ever in terms of popularizing the cruiserweight style that you can now see throughout wrestling at all levels in all weight classes. His career spanned more than 35 years in total, and while he definitely slowed down in the final years of his time in the ring, he was still going out and having good matches. In fact, just a few months removed from retirement at the Tokyo Dome, Liger had a fantastic match with Minoru Suzki at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s King of Pro Wrestling event in October of 2020.

While other long-tenured wrestlers stand out through their ability to reinvent themselves, it’s the durability and consistency that jump off for the page for Liger. His track record also led to this amazing statistic and graphic that was posted on Twitter back in 2018:

Simply stunning. Liger’s longevity is a major reason why I consider him one of the top 10 practitioners of the craft, ever.

On this installment of the 365 Wrestling project, Liger is in action against another beloved masked wrestler, El Generico. This match went down in 2010 as part of PWG’s Kurt Russellmania event in California.

You can check out this match, along with pretty much the entire archive of PWG and a bunch of other content, on the Highspots Wrestling Network.

The Context

Liger keeps wrestling for about another decade after this match, but in terms of getting a major push in his home country, those days are winding down and putting him on a track for New Japan Dad status. At the time of this match, it’s been 10 years since his 11th and final run as IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion — a statistic I found astonishing.

Generico, by contrast, is on the rise. He’s one of the biggest stars on the independents at this juncture, as well as being a fixture for Ring Of Honor. Generico, who was downright skinny earlier in the 2000s, is still lean here but far from a string bean. He’s also yet to put on the mass he accumulated before signing with WWE, which led to him being unmasked and named Sami Zayn.

The Match

If you’ve ever been to an independent show with a big name on the lineup, you know you’re going to see said name’s signature stuff. For example, if X-Pac is wrestling, you’re bound to see a Bronco Buster and probably an X-factor, win or lose. Fans come out for these matches to see their star of choice “play the hits” and that’s the way this match starts. Liger runs Generico through some of his better-known mat work and submission holds, like the Mexican surfboard. The crowd is engaged, Generico is a willing foil, everyone seems happy, and nobody’s having to do anything particularly dangerous or crazy.

But that doesn’t last long! This match hits a different gear, starting when Generico clocks Liger with a leg lariat, leading the legend to roll out to the floor. Generico wastes little time, springing to the top rope and off with a picture-perfect moonsault to the floor. I’ve seen this called a Spaceman Moonsault a few places, for what it’s worth.

After that big dive, both guys are still “playing the hits” but at a decidedly different tempo. Generico busts out a Blue Thunder Bomb and multiple running big boots, now known as the Helluva Kick in WWE. In another impressive feat of aerial derring-do, he goes coast to coast on a somersault legdrop across the back of Liger, who’s hung up on the top rope in the adjacent corner.

Liger brings it during the finishing stretch as well: a brainbuster, a release German suplex, a shotei, and a Liger Bomb are all on the menu, with the latter move disrupting Generico’s attempt at the always spectacular and dangerous-looking top rope brainbuster. That sets up Liger to hit a second brainbuster on Generico and end it.

Random Thoughts

–Some fan named Kirby wins a raffle to do the introductions for this match and he crushes it.

–Seeing Generico here, and how much he was universally beloved by audiences in the gimmick, it’s amazing to reflect on his transformation into the smarmy, scuzzy, conspiracy-theory-spouting heel that Zayn has become on WWE programming.

–I watched this and the RISE match through the Highspots Network on my laptop and the interface is not user friendly at all. Specifically, I miss the ability to rewind back a few seconds. Instead, it’s drag the cursor on the scrollbar and choose your fate. Maybe the Roku app is a little easier to navigate?

Final Rating: 6.2

The opening few minutes are tame and not especially compelling but these two make up for it with a strong finishing stretch. Generico sells everything Liger does well, and the uniqueness of the matchup adds to the value of watching this as well. Definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re a fan of either–and I happen to enjoy both.

Here’s the complete, ongoing list of matches in this project.

Up Next

The date might be old (from the 1970s), but both wrestlers involved are brand-new to me.

Got something to say about this piece, or the 365 Wrestling project? Interact with me on Twitter where you can keep up with all the updates on 365 Wrestling. Send a tweet, a DM, or fill out the contact form on the site to suggest a match for the project.

365 Wrestling, Day 29: Serial Thrillaz vs. Hardy Boyz (OMEGA, 1/29/99)

365 Wrestling, Day 29: Serial Thrillaz vs. Hardy Boyz (OMEGA, 1/29/99)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

What qualifies someone to be considered an all-time great wrestler?

Is it the ability to sell tickets or pay-per-view buys? What about longevity? How about the ability to re-create yourself, and keep things fresh? Maybe it’s the level of influence over future generations of wrestlers?

Matt and Jeff Hardy check every one of these boxes. How many wrestlers who step through the ropes today grew up watching the Hardys in WWE? They’ve found ways to keep themselves fresh, especially with the “Broken Universe” personas. Even now, both are still regular fixtures on TV for two different promotions. While each has spent some time on the Dark Side as an individual (Matt more than Jeff), the Hardys as a team were consistently fan favorites … but not always.

In this installment of 365 Wrestling, the Hardys take to the ring as heels–and not the so-bad-they’re-good heels. Not the “cool” heels. Nope, in this match from OMEGA (the promotion the Hardys helped start themselves) in 1999 against Shane Helms and Mike Maverick, the Hardys receive nuclear levels of heat from a packed high-school gym.

Let’s proceed, shall we? This match is available in two parts on YouTube, and embedded below:

The Context

You know three of the players in this match. Maverick didn’t reach the heights of the Hardys or Helms in wrestling, though he did spend some time in ECW as Jack Dupp.

For all the details on this match, I went straight to the source: Thomas Simpson, one of the co-founders of the OMEGA promotion, and someone I did commentary for on some independent shows in South Carolina a few years ago.

The Hardys had been OMEGA champs for about six months, winning the titles off of Helms and Venom (aka Joey Abs from the Mean Street Posse in the heyday of the WWF Attitude Era). Simpson noted Venom was substituting in the match for Maverick, who had broken his arm when he fell off a roof while working a construction job.

This match takes place at East Wake High School in Wendell, NC. That also happened to be the alma mater of Helms and Maverick. Hundreds of people are packed into the high school gym for this one and there are several minutes of prelude on the video before the match actually begins. Maverick and Helms, who are out first, are greeted as conquering heroes and receive thunderous applause. Meanwhile, the Hardys already are a known presence on WWF TV but that doesn’t win them any supporters in the crowd. Both Matt and Jeff get booed and heckled mightily from the moment they enter the gym — an off-putting sight at first given their later lengthy track record as fan favorites. Matt tries to stir up the crowd even more, making a reference to how he and his brother will be “winning on Sunday Night Heat” after beating Helms and Maverick here.

The Match

Once the match is well under way, you can hear the voice of someone standing near whomever is filming the action on their handheld camera say, “They’ve gotta win the belts or the crowd’s gonna riot.” That’s a good summary of the raucous atmosphere for this match. Just like certain sports teams and colleges promote their home fans as a de facto extra member of the team, the crowd at East Wake High helps elevate what’s happening in the ring — and the match itself already is quite good.

Maverick isn’t an overwhelming physical presence, but he and Helms work with a big man/little man dynamic that I’ve always enjoyed in tag teams, and they do it well. Twice, Maverick flings his partner into the air to do damage to their foes, whether it be on a gorilla press that turns into a splash for a close two count or launching him out of the ring to land on both Hardys. Such power already has been established through some early interactions with Jeff: delivering a brutal-looking spear and then catching him in midair to disrupt the Hardys’ now-well-known Poetry In Motion double team.

Helms plays a spectacular face in peril and it’s the engine that keeps this match going. He spends more time in the ring than anyone else, and the fans bite on every bit of offense he musters up, even if it ends with him getting cut off. After an initial exchange with Matt where something as simple as a leg trip by Helms gets the crowd cheering, Matt turns the tide with a handful of hair followed by two knees to the midsection in the corner. Helms promptly counters in the far corner by flipping up and over Matt, but lands clutching at his midsection in a spectacular snapshot of nuanced selling. While taking the heat of the match, Helms continues to sell but never completely fades, showing enough fight to keep the already-rabid crowd engaged.

Meanwhile, the Hardys put together an homage to the Southern-style tag teams of yore, but with a modern twist — especially through Jeff. This is 1999 and well before many of the catastrophic landings, injuries, and mishaps out of the ring. Jeff Hardy in 2021 is still a very capable wrestler, but watching him here shows a level of athleticism and mobility that was hard to match at the time. Jeff busts out a springboard swanton off the top rope, and chains it directly into a quebrada and makes it look effortless. In front of a different crowd, it might have earned a golf clap of appreciation or even outright applause. Here, Jeff culminates the high-flying combination by hugging his brother, only further enraging the crowd.

As the heels continue their control, Matt ensnares Helms in a sleeper. Many of the fans start clapping and stomping, to the point that the camera filiming literally starts to shake. We’re 15 minutes into the match at this point and it feels half as long — if that. A few moments later, Helms finally makes the tag to Maverick and we see one more final twist on the standard tag formula. The Hardys cut off the “hot tag” by Maverick in short order, and in the process, the referee gets wiped out. The Hardys simultaneously hit a splash and leg drop off the top on Helms. Jeff has the pin, and in a situation that is rare for heels, has the match won but there’s no referee! A replacement referee finally scurries down, but Helms is able to kick out at two. Matt responds as a true heel would: first by powerbombing referee #2, then hooking Helms by the arms while Jeff brings a chair into the ring.

By now, you can see what’s coming from a mile away, and so does the crowd, but that doesn’t make it any less satisfying; Helms moves, Jeff pulverizes his brother and gets knocked to the outside. Helms and Maverick both scale the nearest corner, with Helms leaping off of his partner’s shoulders with a splash to score the win and take the titles to the delight of the packed crowd.

Random Thoughts

–This was the end of an era for OMEGA. Having dropped the titles, the Hardys go to the WWF full time. By May of 1999, Helms and fellow OMEGA product Shannon Moore are in WCW as 3 Count. Venom, though not part of this match, also makes his move to the “big leagues” as Joey Abs. The promotion ran one more event in July of 1999 and a reunion show in December of 2000 (no Hardys on the card, though) before the brand was resurrected in 2013 for 10 shows over a 2 1/2-year span.

–Wrestlers who regularly work as a tag team and might want to look at some new twists on the standard tag formula need to watch this, especially the twists and turns during the finishing stretch.

Final Rating: 8.7

These four combine to create a love letter to Southern tag wrestling with a modern twist through the moves used. The crowd is red-hot throughout and shows no signs of tiring out or losing interest. The end result is fantastic, and a must-watch, especially if you’re a Hardys fan.

Here’s the complete, ongoing list of matches in this project.

Up Next

We take a look at another wrestler who embodies excellence over the long haul.

Like what you’ve read here? Follow me on Twitter to keep up with all the updates on the 365 Wrestling project. Send a tweet, a DM, or fill out the contact form on the site to suggest a match for the project.

365 Wrestling, Day 28: Last Man Standing, John Cena vs. Umaga (WWE Royal Rumble, 1/28/07)

365 Wrestling, Day 28: Last Man Standing, John Cena vs. Umaga (WWE Royal Rumble, 1/28/07)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

I don’t care if you are the most devoted fan of something, you’re going to have gaps. Especially when it comes to something as diverse as wrestling, when there are so many different varieties and flavors out there, only so many hours in the day, and the current era where there’s an overwhelming amount of footage out there to watch.

But anyway… gaps. I’ve written about these gaps before (like here and also here), And, one of those gaps was the 2007 Royal Rumble. I’ve written before about my love of the Rumble but this was one of those years that I did not watch live. I caught the Rumble several years later, but never the undercard, and in the process, I missed out on the John Cena vs. Umaga Last Man Standing match, which is generally regarded as one of the best non-Rumble matches in the history of the Rumble events.

This oversight has been addressed. If you’ve not seen the match, or just want to relive it before reading further, it’s available on Peacock. Just go to the 1:04 mark of the video.

The Context

This is Cena’s third reign with the WWE Title and he is about two years into his decade-long run as a “top guy” for WWE. He’s met quite the obstacle in Umaga, who is in his second run in the company after previously spending time in the tag division with Rosey in 3 Minute Warning. Umaga went undefeated on WWE TV from the time he debuted in the gimmick in April of 2006 until January of 2007, when he challenged Cena for the title and lost on a roll-up. That outcome led to this rematch thanks to heel authority figure Jonathan Coachman (and hasn’t THAT become an overdone storyline trope in wrestling, Dear Reader?)

On the go-home episode of Raw before the Rumble, Umaga put Cena through a table with a splash off the top, aided by Coachman and Umaga’s mouthpiece, Armando Alejandro Estrada. Cena has to be helped to the back, and earlier on the Rumble, he’s in the trainer’s room getting checked out by the doctor — complete with an unexpected visit from Vince McMahon who seems downright gleeful at Cena’s condition and the slim chances of him retaining the title.

The Match

Cena comes out with taped ribs still showing the effects of the attack by Umaga and his cohorts six days earlier. Umaga comes off super impressive and dominates the majority of the match. When Cena does rally and start mounting some offense, oftentimes it ends with Umaga clobbering him. I’ve written before about escalation of violence as an effective way to structure a match and it definitely works here. Cena, who already took a beating against Umaga in a straight-up wrestling match and won in flukey fashion, eats more punishment in this one until he ramps up the violence–first and foremost by throwing the STEEL(!) steps out of the ring and into Umaga’s face. I let out a gasp when it happened, it was so unexpected. The crowd loves it, and it draws the biggest cheers yet for Cena, but Umaga also reaches his feet well before the 10 count.

Steps become the great equalizer for Cena… for a while, that is. Eventually the steps come into the ring and Cena attempts to deliver his FU (soon to be renamed the Attitude Adjustment when WWE goes PG later in the year) across the steps, but is unable to hoist Umaga. The champ crashes facefirst into the edge of the steps, and comes up bleeding, soon forming the proverbial crimson mask that stands out as the last effective, memorable use of blood in WWE until the promotion makes its PG pivot–and also a storytelling device that WWE has continued to avoid to this day.

Since the steps aren’t getting it done anymore and a bloody Cena is being pushed to his limits, he continues to escalate the violence. He rams Umaga shoulder-first into the ringpost, leaving him dangling there while he yoinks a monitor from one of the ringside broadcast tables and smashes it into the challenger’s head, which is resting against the post. This also provokes a fabulous and completely genuine “oh Jiminy God!” call from Jim Ross on commentary.

Even through brutal moments like taking the STEEL(!) steps to the face and becoming the meat in a TV monitor concussion sandwich, there seems to be little doubt in the overall story of the match or in the crowd that Umaga is going to get to his feet. That changes when the action spills to the floor, where the two combatants take advantage of the three announce tables (one for each brand, you see). Umaga stacks Cena on the ECW commentary table, then climbs on the far edge of the far table and takes a run at Cena. He leaps off the middle table for a splash, Cena rolls out of the way, and Umaga destroys the table in a fantastic-looking moment. Umaga barely beats the 10 count in a delightfully close and completely believable false finish.

What follows? Another escalation of violence, of course. Estrada undoes one of the top rope turnbuckles and Umaga tries to wield it for a version of the Samoan Spike. Cena avoids it, uses the turnbuckle as a weapon himself, and finally fells Umaga, using the top rope to throttle the challenger into unconsciousness. The fact it takes two separate stranglings to finish the job only underscores the unstoppable monster atmosphere surrounding Umaga at this time.

What really makes this match work is the performance of Umaga, a fantastically athletic big man who ends up in a perfect position thanks to being slowly and steadily built up through booking as an unstoppable juggernaut. Would this match have so much sizzle if Umaga had been trading wins and losses, instead of a nine-month undefeated streak prior to his first meeting with Cena? Wins and losses matter.

Random Thoughts

–Of Cena’s 16 reigns with one of the two world titles in WWE, this was by far his longest reign: 380 days from winning the title on Sept. 17, 2006, until Oct. 2, 2007, when he vacated the championship due to a torn pectoral.

–Estrada really did an effective job as a manager and mouthpiece for Umaga. He got lost in the shuffle during the build to the hair vs. hair match at WrestleMania 13 that spring.

–Umaga, who was released by WWE in the summer of 2009 after two violations of the company wellness policy, died that December of a heart attack brought on by acute toxicity from taking several painkillers. He was just 36 years old.

–The crowd proves whatever negative stereotype you prefer regarding wrestling fans when they start a “we want tables” chant while there are STEEL(!) steps lying in the ring and being used.

Final Rating: 9.0

This is a fantastic match. I know plenty of people, especially those who are wrestlers themselves, who hold up the Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit match from the 2003 Rumble as not only the best non-Rumble match ever, but one of the best wrestling matches ever. If Angle-Benoit is the wrestling equivalent of a symphony, this is the equivalent of a blockbuster action movie. Is one better than the other? That’s really in the eye of the beholder, as the two products are so different that it’s difficult to compare them outside of the shared setting of a WWE ring.

Cena is at the peak of his fan favorite status, before a sizable percentage of the WWE audience starts turning against him. It helps that his act still has some edge to it at this time; Cena, and everyone else, end up de-fanged when WWE tames down its product in the wake of the Benoit murder-suicide that summer. Umaga ends up losing his monstrous aura after losing to Bobby Lashley at WrestleMania in the hair vs. hair match that involved McMahon and Donald Trump as managers.

The only match thus far in the project that has been on this level, to me, was the Rockers vs. New Orient Express tag match from the ’91 Rumble. I personally give this one the edge because of the higher stakes. Now, let’s see what can top it.

Here’s the complete, ongoing list of matches in this project.

Up Next

We head to 1999 and a packed high-school gym in the Carolinas to see one of the most beloved tag teams in wrestling… as heels?

What’s your favorite non-Rumble match from Royal Rumble pay-per-views? Agree or disagree with my take on this match? Let me know by using the contact form on this site, or reach me on Twitter.

365 Wrestling, Day 27: Rosemary vs. Samara (RISE 2: Ascent, 1/27/17)

365 Wrestling, Day 27: Rosemary vs. Samara (RISE 2: Ascent, 1/27/17)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

There have been a lot of new visitors to my humble little corner of the Series of Tubes as of late, and if you’re one of them, welcome! I’d also like to take a minute to thank Southern Underground Pro (aka SUP Graps) and ACTION! Wrestling for their support of this endeavor.

If you’re here for the first time, or a repeat visitor, you’ve probably noted that we’re not exactly on pace with the current calendar as it stands, but that’s OK. It’s a marathon, people, not a sprint and there’s a looooooong way to go until December 31.

The entry for January 27 is a Wednesday and that means it’s Women’s Match Wednesday. This specific installment centers around my appreciation of one quality–in friends, in art, in entertainment, what have you. And that quality, my friends, is Commitment To The Bit. It’s also why I have a great appreciation for the wrestling persona of Rosemary. She’s in action here against Samara, from an event for the now-defunct RISE Wrestling promotion.

You can find this match on YouTube but if you want the full version with all the bells and whistles, the Higbspots Wrestling Network has it.

The Context

This event is under the banner of RISE, which started out ostensibly as a feeder promotion for SHIMMER — a well-known independent women’s promotion that became a platform for a ton of wrestlers who went on to sign with major promotions. Pull up this entire card and you’ll see quite a few recognizable names, as listed below.

Rosemary enters this match in the midst of her first and, to date, only, reign as Knockouts Champion for Impact Wrestling, which was still known as TNA Wrestling at the time of this event. This is her first appearance for RISE in the full Rosemary persona, which debuted out of the blue for TNA but evolved more slowly on the independent circuit from her initial run in North America as Courtney Rush. Samara is a Southern California product wrestling close to home in Los Angeles in this one. She’s now known as Sareena Sandhu and has landed in WWE, making an appearance teaming with Charlotte Flair for their Superstar Spectacle event. According to Cagematch, that was also Samara/Sareena’s first match in more than 18 months.

The Match

Back at the beginning of this write-up, I talked about the value of Commitment To The Bit and it’s one of the main reasons I find the Rosemary character so appealing. Rosemary remains immersed in her character completely, from the first moment she steps through the curtain, and we see that here. It also helps that she’s concocted an extensive background like that person in your D&D group who’s written a 20-page backstory for their half-orc bard. And I mean that as a compliment.

She gets a star reaction and many phones are out to take pictures and video as she stalks around the ringside area. Samara, her less-experienced foe, comes charging through the curtain with no music and a belly full of babyface fire … then looks in the ring and has what I best can equate to a Ron Burgundy-in-the-bear-pit moment.

What ensues is a narrative of a frightened and intimidated Samara finding her nerve to do battle… while Rosemary busts loose the pro wrestler’s equivalence of a greatest hits medley. The Upside Down, the mist, the Red Wedding (which is called an F-5 here) … it’s all featured. I enjoyed moreso the elements of Rosemary’s offense that are less part of the “signature moveset”: cutting off an attempted suicide dive by Samara with a leaping strike, then dashing off the ropes to apply a Mutalock while on the run. The speed with which Rosemary hooks the hold, and the snap as she flips over into the bridge, is a fine display of her athletic ability and flexibility.

The match ends as you’d expect with Rosemary hitting her finishing move. Even though she’s ostensibly the heel here, the crowd is definitely behind her, with big reactions for all of her well-known stuff.

Random Thoughts

Dave Prazak and Allison Danger are on commentary here. Prazak is the man behind SHIMMER since that promotion ended so his knowledge on women’s wrestling is substantial. The commentators definitely add to the presentation here, whether by musing on the evolution of Rosemary into her current form here, or noting the low ceilings in the venue and that the ring has been lowered as a result to allow the wrestlers to be able to fly off the top rope. Those little details can go a long way.

–Counting Samara aka Sareena, there are four wrestlers on this card who now work for WWE. Mercedes Martinez, Shotzi Blackheart, and Chelsea Green are then others. Green faces Britt Baker, now a fixture for AEW’s women’s division, in the semi-main of this card.

–I’m not sure why but it was at least a little jarring during the entrances when I realized the audience for this all-women’s wrestling event is being performed in front of an audience that looks to be 95% dudes.

Final Rating: 5.8

This is a fine example that a wrestling match doesn’t have to be some sort of epic to be worth watching. They tell a solid story here with an overmatched and frightened Samara finding her will and fighting back, while Rosemary plays her role to the hilt. Everything they do looks smooth and clean. If you’re a big fan of Rosemary, as I am, you’ll definitely enjoy this but if both these ladies are new to you, this one is still worth watching. And, at less that 10 minutes from bell to bell, it’s not a huge commitment of time, either.

Here’s the complete, ongoing list of matches in this project.

What’s Next

A highly-regarded classic title match from a Royal Rumble event of recent yore that I somehow never have seen… until now.

Got a match you’d like me to watch as part of this 365 Wrestling project? Agree or disagree with my take on this match? Let me know by using the contact form on this site, or reach me on Twitter.

365 Wrestling, Day 26: Mr. Wrestling II & Kevin Sullivan vs. Masked Superstar & Austin Idol (Georgia Championship Wrestling, 1/26/80)

365 Wrestling, Day 26: Mr. Wrestling II & Kevin Sullivan vs. Masked Superstar & Austin Idol (Georgia Championship Wrestling, 1/26/80)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

I wouldn’t be a wrestling fan if it wasn’t for my dad.

Oh sure, I discovered the sublime art of costumed murder gymnastics myself, turning on the USA Network on a Sunday afternoon in 1987 in the midst of a squash match. I don’t remember all the particulars, but I distinctly recall Junkyard Dog and Hillbilly Jim teaming together … maybe with Billy Jack Haynes? Not long after, I remember expressing my newfound interest to my parents. Turns out, dad had been a lifelong fan of wrestling himself, but, with my parents deciding they didn’t want to risk warping my fragile little mind (ha!) he wouldn’t watch it in the room. Dad also likes to tell the story that, as a wee tyke in the early 1980s, I had a habit of awaking from my Saturday afternoon naps right in the middle of the main event of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling. Or maybe WorldWide?

Anyhoo… Dad had and has his favorites like any fan. Two guys near the top of his list are featured on opposite sides of our January 26 entry for 365 Wrestling: Mr. Wrestling II and Kevin Sullivan going against Austin Idol and Masked Superstar on Georgia Championship Wrestling TV from January 26, 1980.

You can find this match on YouTube by searching for the full episode of TV. Start watching at the 12-minute mark.

The Context

Mr. Wrestling II and the Superstar were longtime rivals by now, embroiled in a seemingly endless feud. Each man had ripped off the mask of the other on TV, with the de-masked individual in either case quick to cover his head to reveal his face being shown, of course. At the time of this match, II has just dethroned Superstar to become the new Georgia Heavyweight Champion. The Masked Superstar also has an ongoing $3,000 bounty he’s agreed to pay for anyone who can break his dreaded Cobra Clutch.

Meanwhile, Idol and Sullivan are in a feud of their own. The video of this episode features pre-match interviews with both teams, and mention is made of Sullivan’s family. I did some research, which told me the feud started when Idol reportedly broke the leg of Sullivan’s brother in another territory. After Idol and the Superstar have their say, Solie interviews the trio of Sullivan, II, and Steve Travis. Sullivan and Travis originally were slated to team up for this match but Travis and his slouched cowboy hat have agreed to step aside for the masked man.

The Match

The fists and feet start flying from the moment Sullivan and II try entering the ring, and the audience loves it. This kind of heated brawling fits the studio wrestling of the territories so well, with such intimate surroundings and the fans right on top of the action. Seeing Sullivan as a clean-cut babyface is interesting and such a departure from the majority of his later work. He spends the majority of this match as the good guy in peril. Idol and Superstar prevent a tag at every turn. Take note of some of the little things the heels do to keep Sullivan from making the tag. At one point, after Sullivan reverses a suplex on Idol, the Universal Heartthrob blocks off Sullivan with his own body, just planting a leg in front of Sullivan for enough time for Idol to make the tag/

Sullivan keeps fighting and keeps getting knocked back. Meanwhile, the studio audience starts chanting “Two!” at one juncture in their eagerness to see the masked man get into action, while Gordon Solie’s commentary is on point to help keep the overarching narrative flowing. Finally Sullivan makes it to his corner and the crowd goes bananas as II charges into the ring. Looking at Mr. Wrestling II from a modern view, you might wonder what all the fuss was about. He doesn’t have a good physique, his plain white trunks and boots couldn’t be more basic, but he brings so much fire and charisma that made him beloved by the Georgia fans in particular. Though he’s known more I’d say for his singles work, he’s got some great hot tags in him (see the Christmas night steel cage tag with Magnum TA against Jim Neidhart and Butch Reed from Mid-South for evidence, if you haven’t seen that match).

II has the studio audience in the palm of his hand and has the heels reeling with strikes and several of his “patented” knee lifts. Idol trips up the masked man as he goes into the ropes, and that’s apparently enough for the referee to call for the bell. Such a result would get blasted by Twitter nowadays but the actual outcome of the match gets overshadowed as the brawl continues between the four men. Superstar hooks II in the cobra clutch, and II is able to break the hold–with a little help from Sullivan and the unwitting aid of an Idol on all fours. Still, the crowd goes nuts and Solie succinctly describes the $3,000 challenge to break the Cobra Clutch as Idol and Superstar head for the heels.

The segment closes with more words from II and Sullivan, further hyping planned singles matches for the two pairs at the next event at the Omni in Atlanta.

Random Thoughts

-Solie’s outfit for this episode of Georgia TV is a whole mood … especially the pants!

-Idol, who is Georgia’s TV champion at the time of this match, is a guy who I think is pretty underrated. His stint in the WWF ended well before that company reached national and international prominence. He didn’t work for Jim Crockett Promotions after it absorbed the Georgia promotion and established itself as a competitor to the WWF. He’s best known for his work in Memphis, which while a highly entertaining territory, didn’t have the same platform. Just makes you wonder what might have been …

-You might know Masked Superstar better as Ax from Demolition, which started their multi-year run as a top team in the WWF at the beginning of 1987. I love his cool, calm demeanor on the interview here. He just stands there and tells you in a measured tone exactly what he intends to do. It’s also a nice contrast to Idol, who has a more bombastic speaking voice.

Final Rating: 5.5

The action here is fairly standard, but this is worth watching because of the wrestlers taking part in the match, the chance to get a good luck at Sullivan as a clean-cut fan favorite, and as a snapshot for how wrestling booking works, or was supposed to work, during this era. Use the TV show to get people to the arena for the next event. This clip is more than 40 years old but it left me wondering how the two matches at the Omni ended.

Here’s the complete, ongoing list of matches in this project.

What’s Next

We go to 2017 and California, and a match featuring perhaps my favorite character in all of current wrestling.

Got a match you’d like me to watch as part of this 365 Wrestling project? Agree or disagree with my take on this match? Let me know by using the contact form on this site, or reach me on Twitter.

365 Wrestling, Day 25: Hikaru Shida vs. Sakura Hirota (WAVE, 1/25/15)

365 Wrestling, Day 25: Hikaru Shida vs. Sakura Hirota (WAVE, 1/25/15)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

I’ve waxed philisophic from time to time on my motivations for attempting this project. One of those motivations is the chance to see certain wrestlers before they “made it big.” Such is the case with the entry for January 25, where Hikaru Shida is in action several years before she made her way to America and became champion for All Elite Wrestling. In this one, Shida is defending the Reina di WAVE Title, for, appropriately enough, Pro Wrestling WAVE in this match against Sakura Hirota from 2015.

You can watch this match on Dailymotion, by the way.

The Context

The Reina di WAVE is the top singles title in Pro Wrestling WAVE and Shida was just the second champ in the history of this title. This marked her third defense since winning the title on August 24, 2014. Shida is 26 years old here and she’s about 6 1/2 years into her pro career. Her opponent, Hirota, has nearly two decades of experience.

The Match

There’s so much negativity about wrestling on the Internet, and I don’t want this to be just another voice adding to the din of rage and complaining. Besides, life is busy. I barely have time to watch the wrestling I want to (as evidenced by the fact I am about three weeks behind on these entries), so why would I waste time watching and writing about and thinking about wrestling I don’t enjoy?

All of that said… guys and girls, this was rough. For one thing, these two did not mesh particularly well. The work is sporadically sloppy throughout the match, with Hirota the bigger offender. This is my first time seeing Hirota wrestle, and I guess she goes for a comedy gimmick, but it didn’t come across to me. She goes for some big spots in the first half of the match, and the crowd certainly likes the end result, but the set-up in a couple of instances looks like she’s moving in slow motion.

Meanwhile, Shida comes across as the champion just looking to cut off the shenanigans and retain her title. Highlights include a superplex, which begins with Hirota standing on the apron outside the ring; and a fireman’s carry into a nasty-looking backbreaker. She also does her part to make her opponent look like a threat to the title, whether it be selling an open-handed slap to the abdomen that she takes on the run like she has been stabbed with a rusty shiv, or clutching at her arm after a few arm-related submission attempts chained together by Hirota, to varying levels of success in the execution.

And then there’s the referee… a few people who know way more about wrestling have the philosophy that if the referee in a match is good, you’ll never notice them. But if the referee is bad, he or she sticks out like a sore thumb. Watch enough Japanese wrestling and you’re bound to see an official with the occasional hitch in their giddy-up when making the two count and going for the three count, providing that extra little flash of time to build drama before the three count. This… is not one of those matches. I’m not sure who the official is but they take a pause following almost every two count in the match. These pauses just seem to get longer, to the point that the hesitation lasts for a full second in some cases before going for or, in the case of Shida’s running knee that finishes the match, finally counting for three. The prevalence of these long two counts took me out of the match completely. Every attempted three count feels incredibly telegraphed. As a result, none of these big moves or near-falls feel particularly special and by the time the match ended, I was honestly glad it was over.

Final Rating: 4.5

Both wrestlers work hard and the crowd is pretty into this but I can’t recommend watching this match, even if you’re a huge fan of Shida or joshi in general. At least I’m not pausing an extra second before explaining my rating. Can it get worse from here? There are 340 more opportunities to find out. I hope you’ll stick around for the journey.

Here’s the complete, ongoing list of matches in this project.

What’s Next

Let’s go to Georgia for an old-school classic featuring four mainstays of the 1980s.

Got a match you’d like me to watch as part of this 365 Wrestling project? Agree or disagree with my take on this match? Let me know by using the contact form on this site, or reach me on Twitter.

365 Wrestling, Day 24: Eight Man Tag (WCW Souled Out, 1/24/98)

365 Wrestling, Day 24: Eight Man Tag (WCW Souled Out, 1/24/98)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

If you wanted to introduce wrestling to a friend of yours who hadn’t seen it, what would you show them? This is a question I’ve tossed about in my head for years, and one with endless potential answers depending on what you define as good wrestling. What about if you wanted to show someone a specific style of wrestling… lucha libre for example? I might suggest showing them this match that served as the opener of Souled Out 1998. Sit back and enjoy this eight-man tag (or, to use the parlance of lucha libre, atomicos) in all its splendor: Chavo Guerrero, Jr., Lizmark, Jr., Super Calo, and Juventud Guerrera facing La Parka. Psicosis (billed as Psychosis at this time by WCW), El Dandy, and Silver King.

You can watch this match on the WWE Network.

The Context

Eric Bischoff and his role in wrestling remains a pretty polarizing topic, but I always felt he deserved credit for making the cruiserweight division relevant during his time running WCW (which was the predecessor in many ways to Ring of Honor and the X-Division of TNA and the style that is now popular across a variety of promotions with TV exposure). Bischoff also brought in a solid contingent of luchadores in the summer of 1996, most of them straight from Mexico, and several of them taking part in this match. Both these moves — emphasizing the cruiserweights and giving luchadores a platform on nationwide American TV — changed wrestling. Not only that. Bischoff let the Mexican luchadores wrestle their style, as opposed to signing them and trying to “Americanize” them. Would there have been a Lucha Underground if not for these moves? I think it’s a fair question.

This is the first look at most of these guys as part of the project, although La Parka is a longtime favorite of mine. Juventud was part of the January 3 selection, and since that match aired, has already won and lost the Cruiserweight Title.

The Match

This match is contested under lucha libre rules, meaning that leaving the ring is just as good as a tag in the corner. Even then, the rules kinda sorta pretty much get thrown out the window by the end of this match. If you’ve been reading this long, you know these write-ups are not intended to be a move-for-move recap of every match I watch, mainly because I want to encourage you to seek these matches out, watch them for yourself, and come along on this journey with me.

That said, there are some highlights:

–Calo and Psicosis start, but Silver King and Lizmark really get the crowd going with a swank exchange of chops punctuated by a titl-a-whirl backbreaker by Lizmark, Jr.
–El Dandy doesn’t play a big role in the match but he makes the most of his ring time, most notably taking a monkey flip by Chavo and then delivering a headfirst suicide dive as part of a sequence of dives near the end of the match.
–A couple of nasty-looking clotheslines to cut off dive attempts.

If I had to give an MVP to the match, it might be Silver King. He fully commits at every moment he’s in the match, whether on offense or feeding into one of the four tecnicos. He also takes the biggest bump of the match, springing off the middle rope on a plancha to the floor only to miss and eat the concrete.

After Chavo finishes things with a tornado DDT on Psicosis, La Parka runs amok with a steel chair, wiping out every member of the four-man team that just defeated him, and then bonking Dandy and Silver King for good measure. Following a celebratory dance on the chair to the delight of the crowd, La Parka tucks it under his arm and strolls out. The character work here is a delight.

Random Thoughts

-This appears to take place before Heenan starts waxing philosophic about how Super Calo’s hat always stays on his head. Or maybe it just doesn’t come up here?

–Speaking of Heenan, I laughed out loud when he praised La Parka for having “pizazz.”

-I always love those moments when Dusty is on commentary and gets so excited about what he’s seeing that he drops his accent and reacts in his normal speaking voice. That happens at least twice in this match, by my count.

Final Rating: 7.1

This match lasts less than 10 minutes but damn if these eight don’t pack in a good 20 minutes’ worth of action (or more) in the time that they are given. It’s also a fantastic opening match for a card, with nothing but action and a bunch of big moves to get the crowd fired up for anything and everything coming next.

Here’s the complete, ongoing list of matches in this project.

What’s Next

We head back to Japan for another joshi offering, this time featuring one of AEW’s top women’s talents.

Got a match you’d like me to watch as part of this 365 Wrestling project? Agree or disagree with my take on this match? Let me know by using the contact form on this site, or reach me on Twitter.

365 Wrestling, Day 23: Ricky Morton vs. Brad Armstrong (IPW, 1/23/96)

365 Wrestling, Day 23: Ricky Morton vs. Brad Armstrong (IPW, 1/23/96)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

The original plan for this January 23 entry was to watch an I Quit Match betwixt Terry Funk and Eddie Gilbert from the very early days of ECW in 1993. I don’t want to speak ill of The Funker (a top-10-of-all-time talent, in my opinion… at minimum) or Gilbert, who I also enjoy, but I just couldn’t get through the match. Call it circumstance, call it bias, call it a sequence of unfortunate events, but I found myself waving the white flag on the 30-plus minute video despite repeated attempts.

And so, like Kansas City in Super Bowl LV, I punted. In searching for a replacement entry, I stumbled upon this match pitting Ricky Morton and Brad Armstrong against one another in singles action. I’ve written before about how unique matchups appeal to me (like this one and this other one), and I certainly don’t recall many instances where these two met in singles action.

You can find this match on YouTube, and I’ve embedded it here:

The Context

Morton and Armstrong previously were some of the top talent for Smoky Mountain Wrestling, which closed down in November of 1995. Armstrong actually dropped the SMW Title to Tommy Rich during the final set of shows. As the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, Morton and Robert Gibson were fixtures in Smoky Mountain for most of the promotion’s 3 1/2-year run, winning the tag titles there 10 times. Based on my research, Armstrong hadn’t wrestled much since SMW closed its doors, while Morton had spent most of his time working for the USWA in Memphis but also spending some time in Germany.

Here, they’re wrestling for a promotion called IPW Pro Wrestling, the first — and, as it turns out, only — event held under that banner. This event happened at O’Sullivan’s, a bar in Asheville, NC. Al Getz, a longtime manager and commentator in the Southeast and Friend of the Blog, ran this show. If you enjoy this project, you definitely want to check out his current efforts at Charting The Territories.

Morton’s long been celebrated for his skill and ability inside the ring, and he’s still very active on the independent scene, even making a few appearances for All Elite Wrestling and busting out Canadian Destroyers like that’s just a thing 64-year-olds do. Armstrong, who died in November of 2012, has long been celebrated within wrestling as an extremely gifted and highly underrated talent.

The Match

This is promoted as a good, clean wrestling match between a pair of fan favorites and instead becomes the tale of the slow, subtle, decline of Morton’s ethics to end up the full-blown heel. A beloved fan favorite for the vast majority of his career, Morton completes this transformation in less than 10 minutes. It starts when Morton has Armstrong backed into a corner in a lock up, then delivers a short knee to the midsection. They tie up again, and this time Morton delivers a slap rather than make a clean break. Mere moments later, Morton is bending every rule he can and breaking some. He pulls hair. He manipulates the fingers of Armstrong, then stomps on his hand. He goes after Armstrong’s eyes. Meanwhile, Armstrong becomes exceedingly frustrated.

Brad makes his comeback shortly before the 10-minute call, and shortly after, it’s all over, as Morton sweeps Armstrong’s legs out from under him, folding him up for the pin and putting his feet on the ropes for the assist. It’s an abrupt finish that leaves you wanting more, and the suddenness is underscored by the referee making the three count at a significantly higher pace than other pin attempts — a longstanding pet peeve of mine when it comes to wrestling.

Random Thoughts

— You would be hard-pressed to find a more intimate setting for a match than this bar in Asheville. This added to the “rare find” feel for me when I initially found this online.

— The lead commentator (Chance Williams, aka Steve Martin from NWA Wildside, in a nugget of information provided by the esteemed Mr. Getz) does a good job mentioning how IPW doesn’t have a 20-count when wrestlers are outside the ring. Such little twists to differentiate one promotion from the others are always a good idea.

Final Rating: 5.8

This is a fine example of a good, solid, well-worked wrestling match. Everything that happens has a purpose, and everything that both guys do means something. I think it’s definitely something young and new wrestlers should check out, particularly how Morton cuts off multiple attempts at a comeback by Armstrong and does so simply and effectively to halt Armstrong’s momentum. Had the match built to more of a finish, the rating would have been significantly higher. As it is, it feels like these two were waiting for the 10-minute call and just wrapped up as soon as possible.

Here’s the complete, ongoing list of matches in this project.

What’s Next

Lucha libre steals the show on pay-per-view.

Got a match you’d like me to watch as part of this 365 Wrestling project? Agree or disagree with my take on this match? Let me know by using the contact form on this site, or reach me on Twitter.